Digital Solutions: What’s in store for patients in 2020?
By Shannon Malovec, Principal, Patient Engagement, TELUS Health
It saves time. It improves access. And Canadians want it. Health technology is poised to help us be healthier.
We’ve all seen the stats—the demand is out there for digital health solutions.
A 2019 Canadian Medical Association survey tells us that eight in ten Canadians want to access all their health data through technology, and seven in ten think technology will help us be healthier in the future. The same survey tells us that tech is currently improving the healthcare experience for six in ten Canadians.
We know that more and more health technology projects are engaging patients as key players in the healthcare team. And when digital health projects put people at the centre of our own care—where we belong—we see big leaps against Triple Aim objectives, like a BC digital health pilot that reduced patients’ use of acute care by $3,000 – $12,000 per year.
Innovative health technology is making patient-centred care easier by giving Canadians:
- Access to tools to support us in our homes
- Access to data and information anywhere, anytime
- Access to care through technology
Here’s a look at some of the health technologies in these three categories and the results we’ve seen.1
Tools in the home
Home health monitoring (HHM) lets patients send their own daily biometrics and mood readings to their care teams, who can intervene right away when needed to help avoid worsening health. This life-changing and health-saving technology is becoming more common in Canada, with province-level initiatives in British Columbia and Ontario. And we’re starting to see HHM expand beyond chronic condition management and into palliative and supportive care, primary care (to ward off hospital visits), and post-surgery (to discharge patients faster and help keep them healthy at home).
But wide-scale adoption, like we’ve seen in some parts of the United Kingdom, Spain, and China, has yet to be seen in Canada. What’s slowing us down? In many European models, hospitals are helping post-discharge patients manage their health at home to actively avoid repeat visits, because they pay a penalty when patients return within 30 days. If our Canadian pilot results are any indication, provinces putting these strategies in place could not only improve health, they could save costs.
Alongside the many wearables, apps, and devices that help us track and improve our fitness and lifestyle habits, HHM is another fantastic vehicle to help educate patients on maintaining healthy behaviours. And we’re not alone in our belief that preventive self-care is the area with the biggest potential to move the needle on health.
Health information anywhere, anytime
The immediacy of the online world has now reached healthcare. Many people can now book an appointment or communicate with their carers through a hospital or clinic portal.
And through provincial Personal Health Records, 15% of Canadians in 2018 (that’s 5.5 million, double since 2016!) had secure, online access to their own and their loved ones’ digital health records. It only makes sense. Empowering patients with access to their data lets them play a more active role in their own health.
In Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and Nova Scotia, citizens can see a fair amount of their health information such as lab results, imaging, immunizations, progress against care plans, prescriptions, and more. Surveys and testimonials are showing that patients are happy to cut out the anxiety of waiting for results. Both patients and providers are finding office visits more efficient and collaborative with more information at hand.
Alberta and Saskatchewan are offering central, secure provincial PHRs that let citizens add their own data to provincial data. Others are taking a more decentralized approach, with citizens tracking and accessing health data through different primary and acute portals, as well as health apps.
We think that a single entry point to an integrated system- and patient-generated health data offers a more holistic picture of health—a quality much needed in Canada’s disparate and often confusing health system. Canada Health Infoway’s ACCESS 2022 Program, of which TELUS Health is a founding sponsor, can support us all across Canada in continuing to make our healthcare data accessible.
More and more Canadians (41%) want to get physical and mental healthcare virtually, but last year only 6% could, and 3% did. Some patients are meeting with providers through digital channels like chat, email, and video conference. And some monitoring solutions, PHRs, and portals have native virtual care capabilities.
Apps like Medisys on-Demand (powered by Akira) and Babylon by TELUS Health provide immediate access to clinical insight to assess symptoms and guide people to the appropriate source of care – a virtual physician visit, an in-person consultation, or the emergency room.
Offering care through apps, chats, and phone calls is helping many people, exactly when and where they need the help, regardless of their means or where they live. These solutions work well for unattached patients and people living in rural and remote settings. We’ve also seen these solutions support people who have challenges to receive the care they need, such as young people looking for mental health support and paramedics. Patients enjoy the peace of mind, safety, and convenience, virtual care offers.
Unfortunately these solutions only exist in pockets across Canada. We would see a greater uptake if our health systems adapted funding models to support virtual visits, and updated privacy and security policies to include secure platforms like cloud. Doing this will be a game-changer for many Canadians.
The impact of engaged patients
Healthcare is episodic, but self-care is 24-7. So when patients are engaged in their own health and better able to self-manage their conditions, the impact can be huge. And patient demand for information, health tools, and virtual care is real and substantial.
Health technology is responding to the issue of unsustainable costs by letting us do things more simply, quicker, and more cost effectively, all while engaging and empowering patients. When technology is more widespread, we predict we’ll see our limited health funds go further.
Patient Engagement was the theme of the 2019 Infoway conference. It’s also at the center of everything we do at TELUS Health. What is it and what is it not?
- A partnership between patients and carers
- A holistic re-imagining of care, beyond specific conditions
- About well-being through self-care 24-7, with interventions when needed
- Technology-enabled for access to data and care
- Just tech – tech is a means to make care easier, faster, proactive, collaborative
- Transferring the onus of care to patients alone – it’s about better collaborative care
Canadians are evenly split on whether they think healthcare will get better, worse, or stay the same over the next 10 years.2
For those who think it’ll get better, the top reason is health technology like virtual care, telehealth, patient portals, and personal health records. The results of these kinds of technology investments can deliver amazing results across the Triple Aim while addressing the need for more self-care and preventative care in the home. And, with the added bonus truly engaging patients in their own care, we’re confident that there is a lot to explore in this realm for any health system looking for ways to transform care in a sustainable way.
Learn more about TELUS’ Patient and Consumer Engagement Solutions
1All views expressed are my own and may not be those of TELUS Health.